Vlada Petrić (1928-2019)

© Barry Strongin

Vladimir “Vlada” Petrić (11 March 1928, Prnjavor, Kingdom of Yugoslavia – 13 November 2019, Belgrade) is an eminent film studies scholar, a retired Harvard University professor, and the co-founder of the Harvard Film Archive. He is the first recipient of a PhD in film studies in the United States. Throughout his creative career, Mr. Petrić has directed for film, television, theater, focusing on producing and directing experimental video essays later in his life. In the field of academic literature, Mr Petrić’s scholarly endeavors are marked by seminal works in which he conducted research into American and Soviet cinematography.

Vlada Petrić graduated from the English Language and Literature Department of the University of Belgrade in 1956. Prior to this, he had started working as a teaching assistant for acting and directing at the Academy of Theater and Film, where he also received a degree in film and theater directing in 1958. He also served as a director at Radio Television Belgrade since its inception in 1958. After receiving a professorship in film history at the Academy of Theater, Film, Radio and Television in 1960, Mr. Petrić spent the period 1965–1966 on a study trip in the Soviet Union at the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography, where he conducted research into Soviet cinematography under the tutelage of Lev Kuleshov and Nikolai Lebedev. In 1970, Mr. Petrić went to the United States as a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship, where he enrolled at New York University and in 1973 became the first person to receive a doctoral degree in film studies at a US institution of higher education. In the period between 1972 and 1974, he was a visiting professor at the College at Purchase (Theater Department), New York and at the English Language and Literature at the State University of New York (SUNY). Mr. Petrić received the Henry Luce Chair of Cinema at Harvard University in 1972 and remained in that position until 1997. During this period, he also lectured extensively at universities across the United States and Europe. Together with the documentarian Robert Gardner and the philosopher Stanley Cavell, he founded the Harvard Film Archive and served as its Founding Curator until his retirement in 1997.

Contributions to theater and the film arts

Apart from his endeavors in the academic field, Mr. Petrić has left a considerable legacy in the field of film and theater, as well as in the books and studies which he wrote about theater, film theory and history. His first forays into theater and film date from the period when he worked in Radio Television Belgrade as the editor of the film program and director of drama shows. He also directed several theater plays, including The Theater of Joakim Vujić for which he received the prestigious “Sterija” Award in 1959, as well as the play-oratorio The Word of Light (1966), which was inspired by the epic poetry of the Kosovo cycle, and for which stage music was written by Ljubica Marić. The play only received nine performances before it was banned by the Communist authorities due to its content being deemed “politically inappropriate”. He established the Kino-Theater Foundation in Serbia together with his wife, the actress Dara Čalenić; the Foundation awards two pecuniary prizes (for the best actor and best actress under the age of 30) every year at the Sterijino pozorje Theater Festival in Novi Sad, as well as a monetary award (for the Best Cinematic Sequence) given at the Festival of Film d’Auteur in Belgrade. Aside from the aforementioned, Mr. Petrić has been regularly donating monetary funds to the library of the Yugoslav Film Archive for more than 15 years, as well as to other festivals and cultural organizations.